30 January 2009

Expos et promenades: Ma vie parisienne

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of what my friend Zoë so elegantly called “carping the diem.” And by that I mean leaving the comfort of my room, getting out there and doing interesting things in this lovely city. This week I’ve had a lot of “Oh yeah, I’m in PARIS” moments so here’s a brief rundown:
  • Watched François Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups and spotted 17th-arrondissement landmarks.
  • Explored the 20th and looked out on foggy Paris from Parc de Belleville, a vantage point 26 feet higher than Montmartre.
  • Navigated around the massive Père LaChaise cemetery taking in the sullen and tranquil ambiance and gawking at the graves of: Baron Haussmann, David, Vivant Denon, Jim Morrison (stereotypical, but I kind of had to), Honoré de Balzac, Eugene Delacroix, Molière, Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf.
  • Took the bus – a lot – reading my collection of Anna Gavalda short stories all the while…oh how Parisian I have become.
  • Visited Paris la Belle, an exposition on poet, screenwriter, lyricist and artist Jacques Prévert in the Hôtel de Ville.
  • Browsed the Museum of modern art of the city of Paris.
  • Strolled around Passy.
  • Took advantage yet again of the soldes [sales] and spruced up my wardrobe more than was necessary – but when after someone asks me where I got such-and-such item I can haughtily respond “Paris,” it will all me worth it.
  • Toured Balzac’s House where he lived and worked for seven years in what was then the outskirts of Paris.
  • Benefitted from a fleeting sunny Parisian day by walking from my apartment across the Seine and past the Place de la Concorde to class in the 8th.
  • Perused an intriguing photography exhibit at the Jeu de Paume, entitled Un regard étranger. Paris / Les Américains.
  • Walked the length of the Tuilleries.
  • Visited the Palais Royal and peered through the multicolored glass panes which give a look through the construction barriers onto the restoration of Daniel Buren’s Les Deux Plateaux installation.
  • And I finished my sunny Friday afternoon reading peacefully in the Louvre.

29 January 2009

Un enfant gâté?

I guess I should have knocked on wood after that last post.

Paris is in plein [full] grève aujourd’hui [today]. Taking action against the current economic climate and various Sarkozy administration movements toward privatization (particularly of the post), tens of thousands of workers in diverse sectors are taking part in a national day of grève [strike]. The RATP had warned against extensive perturbation [disruption] of a number of metro lines – in actuality, the Metro seemed to be running quite smoothly today – and Post Offices and other such establishments were closed across the country. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 individuals were expected to participate in a demonstration from the Bastille to the Opèra.

Is it the spirit of social movement in action or the obnoxious cries of “un enfant gâté” [a spoiled child]?

The latter is how my host mom characterizes the Parisian penchant for striking – and it is particularly Parisian, she notes. France’s workers have been spoiled and they have a tendency to throw tantrums in the form of grèves [strikes] until they get their way, she argues. What’s more, she contends it’s only those who have secure enough jobs who can even strike in the first place, while empathizing with the small business owners who are equally struggling. Clearly not all Parisians share this view on the grève, but it’s an interesting perspective.

In a completely unrelated grève, the Université of Paris VII is protesting poor wages and working conditions. The movement is somewhat hit-or-miss and each U.F.R. [department] has the right to choose whether or not they will strike. At present, my department (Lettres et cinéma) is on strike through Tuesday at which point they will vote again on whether or not to prolong the movement. If this strike lasts, I will have to find replacements for my two classes at the university which would certainly be dommage [a pity] because I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Paris VII and have picked some intriguing courses for the semester.

Alors, on verra…

25 January 2009

Paris Manif’

I think for any American studying abroad in Paris it’s obligatory to remark on the culture of social movements in France. Manifestations [protests] and grèves [strikes] are practically national pastimes. So much so that this tendency is frequently the butt of French jokes and jokes about the French – including France’s representation in Czech artist David Černý’s controversial Entropa piece.

The frequency with which lycéens [high school students] throw protests (like throwing a party…and skipping school at the same time) is certainly funny. It is equally frustrating how often the traffic on Metro and RER lines is perturbé [disrupted] due to grèves. It is nevertheless honorable that the French feel passionately enough about issues to take public action for change. Since the protest era of the lat 60s and early 70s, most Americans have become cynical and jaded (myself included…even at my young age). The French, while cynical and ironic in daily interactions, still seem to respect and privilege the art of the protest.

Although much different than the typical manifestations for workers’ rights or education reform (or against education reform, it’s often hard to tell), Paris has recently turned its focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Always a touchy subject, a recent pro-Palestinian demonstration on January 3 turned violent when protestors, among the more than 21,000 demonstrators present, took to burning cars, breaking store windows and looting.

Since then, protests have taken place each weekend as Parisians rush to show their support for Palestinians in Gaza.

When I received a warning in my inbox from the U.S. Embassy, advising that I avoid the pro-Palestinian demonstration that was to take place at 2:00 p.m. today in and around my quartier, I was more tempted to attend than discouraged from it. I did, however, have other plans for the afternoon and understood that in reality it’s best not to meddle with these types of things – especially in a foreign county AND especially one where racial and religious tensions are high.

On my way to the BiFi this morning, I did pass by part of the demonstration’s projected route. The C.R.S. vehicles lining Boulevard Montparnasse gave the normally lively and cheerful street an eerie vibe. On my short walk to the Raspail Metro station, I saw more C.R.S. vans and police cars than I could count. The authorities were clearly not taking any chances with the projected 15,000 “non-violent” demonstrators.

This scene immediately reminded me of October 17, 1961. On this oft-forgotten, sordid day in Paris’s history, Arabic-Franco tensions were infinitely higher. We were in the thick of the Algerian War, and the FLN’s presence in Paris was stronger than authorities would have liked. Likewise, Maghrébin [North African] immigrants lived in even worse conditions than today. The défavorisées [disadvantaged] banlieues were at this point literal bidonvilles [slums/shantytowns].

On October 17, 1961, a completely non-violent protest against a Parisian curfew directed solely at Algerians ended in tragedy when C.R.S. agents and police reacted severely and violently to stop the demonstration at all costs (Charles de Gaulle had given préfet of police Maurice Papon “carte blanche” to do so). Tens of thousands were arrested, hundreds were beaten and dozens of unlucky individuals were même [even] thrown into the Seine. Between 100 and 300 people were killed in the mayhem.

Thankfully today’s protest remained peaceful. But scenes of the present are haunted by the hidden truths of the past, and it is important for the French and foreigners alike to remember this tragic and sordid day that France tries so hard to forget.

21 January 2009

La troisième ville : Vienne

I just watched The Third Man – an excellent film noir set in 1949 Vienna – this afternoon and was, thus, inspired to complete my travel triptych with my tales from Wien.

Of our three destinations, Vienna was the city that reminded me the most of Paris. Its late-19th-century buildings are of a similar architecture as those of Paris. Its Habsburg palaces blatantly recall the style and opulence of Versailles. And of the three cities, it was the place where I felt the guiltiest for not being able to speak the language. Although the Austrians didn’t seem as fervently zealous in their protection of German as the French are of their language, English was less common than in Amsterdam (where it was ubiquitous) and less appreciated than in Prague (where I detected mild amusement from those with which I spoke in English). I guess the city served as a good transition back to Paris.

We pulled into the bus station in Vienna around noon and proceed to the U-Bahn – Vienna’s equivalent of the Metro – where we successfully purchased our 72-hour passes and boarded the train in the direction of our accommodations. Thanks to a detailed map of the area that we had sketched out, using Google Maps, the night before, we avoided conflict and made it easily to the Elisabeth Guesthouse. When we arrived there was no on in sight and no response upon ringing the bell. We were searching for their phone number amongst my paperwork and standing confused in the hallway for a number of minutes when an endearing old Austrian man emerged from a nearby doorway. He eventually led us to our room which was more like a bitty apartment complete with kitchen and entryway.

We took the U-Bahn into town where we visited the impressive and very tall St. Stephen’s Cathedral. After that, we anticipated our standby tourism strategy of walking about the city looking at various pretty things. Unfortunately, the weather, which – coinciding with our departure from Prague – had recently turned frigid, foiled this tactic. We quickly grew very cold. We ducked into a nearby church to warm up, and Peterskirche [St. Peter’s Church] turned out to be a delightfully ornate Baroque art piece.

Fighting off the cold, we continued on to get a look at the Hofburg Palace, pride of the Habsburgs, and carried on to the MuseumsQuartier, an overly conceptual mall/museum complex where it seemed a number of things were closed. This was the moment when we began to realize that the Austrians must celebrate some sort of Boxing-Day-like holiday for which life shuts down on the day after Christmas. We began to fear the fermeture [closure] of all eating establishments, and dinner plans became a concern. Luckily, we had blown our remaining crowns on snacks at our nonstop convenience store in Prague so at least we wouldn’t go hungry. Nevertheless, we decided to walk the length of a major thoroughfare in search of something warm to eat. The only place open was MacDo [McDonald’s], and although we were reluctant – we passed one up before ultimately deciding to give in at the next – it turned out to be worth it, if only for the intriguing cross-cultural exchange that took place as I tried to order from the entertained (and entertaining) German-speaking cashier.

We called it a night and decide we would need to make more concrete plans for the next day in order to avoid growing bitter and cold on the streets of Vienna.

Saturday we hit up a grocery store, realizing the severity of our lack of food. We then hopped on the U-Bahn for the Belvedere. To get there we had to switch to the S-Bahn – Vienna’s equivalent of the RER – and thanks to some incompetency in reading signs we passed by the Prater theme park which allowed us to see the Ferris wheel featured in a dramatic scene between Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in The Third Man.

We eventually headed back in the right direction and arrived at the Belvedere. Originally the summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, it now hosts an impressive art collection. It understandably had an impressive selection of Klimts; although I don’t think I had heard of him before this trip, I grew to love the work of Gustav Klimt, pride of the modern Vienna art scene. The grand staircase and impressive rooms of both the Upper and Lower Belvedere buildings were also a treat. Plus, the French garden connecting them made me feel at home.

We ended up passing our day amongst the art and stopped off to look at the beautifully lit Karlskirche [St. Charles’s Church] before heading home for the night.

On our last day in Vienna, we stopped by the Secessionist Building whose art nouveau exterior was eye-catching and the Opera which was a bit of a rip-off of Paris’s Opera Garnier.

We spent most of the day in the Albertina, yet another palace-cum-gallery, where a recently donated personal collection featured works by painters from Monet to Picasso and everyone in between (and even some after like Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko). A random smattering of contemporary Austrian art with poorly written – or poorly translated – accompanying text also held our attention. The Habsburg staterooms were equally thrilling, presenting the allure of a fully reconstructed timepiece with prints from Dürer and others decorating the walls. This mixture of luxury and art was particularly appealing to me. It’s like getting two attractions for the price of one!

After I bought some chocolates as a souvenir for my host mom, we began our search around the St. Stephen’s Cathedral for some “Viennese treats” to cap off our stay. Apparently I am spoiled from living in Paris where cafés line the streets and dot each corner, but it was harder than expected to find a suitable establishment. We did eventually locate this immense eatery where I had the milkshake I had been looking for all week and some tiramisu – don’t judge…it’s required to indulge while on vacation – and Ben got a classic apple strudel. Before saying goodbye to Vienna we took the U-Bahn out to Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg’s summer retreat, to snap some photos and stare.
The next day, despite frustrations with the S-Bahn which decided to cancel a train making us wait on the cold quai [platform] for a good hour and ten minutes, we made it to the Vienna Airport and happily boarded our plane back to Paris.

19 January 2009

Bienvenue chez les profs

Sunday, I was invited to lunch chez [at the place of] two of my favorite Smith professors. I have had the pleasure of working with and taking classes taught by my advisor Nicolas as well as his wife Fabienne, both French profs at Smith. Although they work in Northampton, they have an adorable, sixth-floor apartment in the 18e à Paris, where they spend their breaks and summers. They had always insisted that we meet up while they were in Paris, and Fabienne kindly invited me to lunch. I was a bit nervous about the encounter. When you consider my lack of people skills and their endearingly awkward comportments, I knew we were in for a show.

It was actually less awkward than anticipated, and I had a lot of fun. They are so sweet and encouraging and were very excited to hear any and everything that I had to say about Paris. We had a lovely French lunch of saucisse [sausage], lentils and potatoes, made complete with a bit of wine. Tea and treats followed.

After lunch, Nicolas had some work to tend to, but Fabienne and I took a lovely walk around the quartier [neighborhood]. I am always thrilled to discover new corners of Paris, and this thriving, diverse neighborhood was a great place to explore. En outre [In addition], Fabienne showed me the surprising traces of littérature and history in her own backyard. We stopped at the apartment building where – as Patrick Modiano learned – Dora Bruder had lived and headed past the commissariat [police station] where her parents had posted a notice in search of her. Later, we came upon the one massive entryway that remains from the luxurious 19th-centurey department store that served as the basis for Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des dames.

It is that capacity for histories of so many eras to overlap, cross and dialogue on the present-day streets of Paris that I love so much about the city. And these traces exist in n’importe quel [any] quartier. From the Lutécien amphitheater to the remnants of Philippe Auguste’s city walls to the Boulevards of Haussmann and the traces of the Occupation, it’s all here. Two-thousand years of history surimposés [overlapping] on one moderne ville [modern city], and what a lovely ville it is.

Overall, I was very pleased to have spent the afternoon with Fabienne and Nicolas. Seeing their love and passion for Paris made me rethink my own attitudes. Am I spending my time here wisely? Am I living the Parisian life to the fullest? Lately, there’s been a tiny part of me that has been counting down the days until I get to return to the states. I’ve idealized the moments of reconnecting with loved ones, eating at my favorite restaurants, relaxing in my own room and enjoying free soda refills. But I forget how quickly this Paris experience is passing me by. And as soon as I leave, I know I will regret it and wish that I could come back…

14 January 2009

Le Pouvoir de Prague

The second leg of our amazing Christmas-break trip was the stunningly gothic and utterly cinematic Prague.

A 14-hour overnight bus ride transported us across a large swatch of southern Germany, where we encountered some pretty great Germany
customs agents. Sample interchange:

German border patrol agent (as he goes to open a bag): Is this your bag?
Czech man resembling every stereotypical Euro-trash movie villain ever (indignantly): May I ask you why you would like to search it?
German border patrol (deadpan): It is my job.

Managing to get a surprising amount of sleep on the crowded bus, we pulled into Prague a little afte
r noon. After some major snafus in trying to locate our hostel, we eventually took the long way around and arrived at the Hostel Elf. Thankfully, there were no spinning elves in sight, but the place was pretty funky. The hallway walls and doors had been elaborately spray painted and the lobby’s leather couches were perpetually filled with characters whom Ben dubbed “degenerate hippies.” In all, our accommodations were pretty nice. The facilities had clearly been recently redone. Plus, there was a kitchen and free Internet at our disposal.

By the time we ventured out it was late afternoon and, with suitable maps in hand, we set out for town. I had to find a bank to change my Euros to
Czech crowns, and we were, of course, in search of the ever-elusive dinner. I exchanged my money, and we headed into the Old Town section of Prague. There, we encountered a number of old-school Gothic buildings. They were each so striking, as historic artifacts of a time past and in their dissimilarity to the Haussmannian constructions that I have grown so used to in Paris.

We stumbled upon a Christmas market in Old Town Square. Still quite commercialized, it struck my as utterly tradition in comparison to the phony chalets erected on the Champs-Élysées. We strolled through the tiny, old streets of the medieval section of town until we reached the river where the beautiful Vltava and the vista of the illuminated Charles Bridge and Prague Castle gave us a wonderful first impression.
We ended up finding dinner at a restaurant which could have been mistaken for a basement, or wine cellar, but where we were pleased to find English translations on the menu.

As much as I loved the exoticism of words peppered with V’s and upside-down circumflexes which resembled excited arrows bearing down on unsuspecting letters (sample word: Pražský hrad), I had no luck with the Czech language.

The next day was Christmas Eve and rather than take the time to relax while museums and most attractions were close, we decided to explore the city by foot. We walked – I should say hiked – for over five hours straight. But we did cover the whole city, including its parks and outskirts. Although Google exaggerates a bit because it cannot find the exact paths we used to maneuver through parks,
this is a vague approximation of our trek.

From our hostel we headed off to the point on our map intriguingly labeled “Prague Metronome.” At said spot, we found, high atop a hill, a giant, working metronome. Curious, we climb up the massive set of stairs for a closer look. While the metronome, a modern sculptor’s 1991 creation as a replacement to a giant Stalin statue, was cool, it was the view from the hill that was breathtaking. All of Prague unfolded clearly before us with its colored rooftops and cluttered quartiers.

As the day unfurled, we visited the
Prague Castle where we took a look inside St. Vitus’s Cathedral – you have to give props to the Bohemians for giving love to some of the lesser known saints – whose flying buttresses could challenge Notre-Dames’, and bought some postcards at a bookshop where Franz Kafka lived and wrote. The views from the castle were equally pretty, but crowded with tourists – we had the lookout from the metronome all to ourselves. Another perfect example of the tourist crowd-think mentality.

We fought the crowds down to the Charles Bridge, sight of a number of
music videos and a climatic Mission: Impossible scene. It’s also old and historic and stuff. Afterwards, we made our way back up the hill. The road we were on became increasingly steeper until it terminated in another set of unbelievably long stairs. Although we were exhausted when we got there, Petrin Hill was a lovely – and deserted – park. I snapped photos of the scaled-down Eiffel-Tower copycat and the labyrinth, which was unfortunately closed. After a lengthy and disheartening search, we finally stumbled upon the Ukrainian, pagoda-like church that we had been looking for all along. Wet, cold and sore from all the walking, we decided to head home as night fell. We detoured past St. Wenceslaus’s – another one for you – Square and settled in for a cozy evening at the Hostel Elf.

Our last day in Prague was Christmas. We took the opportunity to visit the modern section of the Prague National Gallery, which happened to be open – much to the chagrin of the very bored museum guards. The place was immense, and we easily wasted the day away there. We finished off our stay in Prague by taking a
walk through the Jewish Quarter, which we had yet not visited, and stopping at a café to use up our remaining crowns on some Christmas treats. The café may have been a bit “frou-frou,” but I was extremely pleased by my pancakes with yogurt and forest fruit. I imagine that Ben was equally sated by his hot apple pie and vanilla sauce. Plus, the café was broadcasted VH1 Classic on its flat-screen TVs. What’s better than some Toto “Africa” to cap a great Prague experience?

Prague was a wonderful
palimpsest of histories from the Bohemians to Kafka to the Communists on which the present of an up-and-coming modern European city is being written. Although it may have worn us down a bit, Praha’s stunning vistas and dramatic spirit were unforgettable.

We bid our adieus to the Hostel Elf early the next morning and made our way – much more successfully this time – to the bus station to head off for Vienna.

05 January 2009

La Neige

This beautiful surprise in the jardin of Reid Hall almost made waking up for my
9-a.m. cours de traduction worth it:

04 January 2009

Amsterdam sans souci

With the songs of the same name by Guster and Peter Bjorn & John ringing in my ears, Ben and I set off for Amsterdam ridiculously early on the day after my last class before break.

The train plowed through Belgium quicker than the Germans (too soon? I don’t think so) and made stops at all of the Netherlands’ major cities – which are surprisingly close together even for the tiny speck of a country that is Holland – before finding its terminus and our destination at Amsterdam’s Central Station.

Once we had located our adorable, canal-side hotel, one member of our party took an epic nap while the other explored the nearby Museum Quarter and the adorable Prince William Canal, noting interesting restaurants and attractions along the way. For dinner, we tried out the nearby Pancake Corner where I ate a “pizza pancake,” and Ben tapped his England nostalgia for some fish and chips.

We ended our night at the Van Gogh Museum which is open in nocturne Friday nights, complete with DJ. The atmosphere was fun, and the art was great. The large collection of Van Goghs was laid out chronologically, and detailed texts – always translated in perfect English – gave context and insight into Van Gogh’s troubled psyche.

The next day was full of walking – a common theme of our vacation(s) – and colonialism. We walked “Farther Afield” as our guidebook put it to the Tropenmuseum. Formerly a testament to the colonial glory of the Netherlands (yes, the tiny country was a colonial power, controlling the massive Indonesia for hundreds of years), the “Tropical Museum” now hopes to offer ethnographic “stories” from across the world. It was a bit like the Musée Quai Branly but much more anthropological. And although the cartoon Indian with an accent fit for Apu clearly crossed the line of good taste and cultural sensitivity, the museum was well-done and held the attention of two self-proclaimed po-co enthusiasts. Plus, an exhibition on the influence of Vodou in Haiti was enlightening and surprising.

After learning that the National Maritime Museum was closed for renovation – along with half of Amsterdam – we strolled about the harbor and back to the Leidseplein, the bustling plaza located near our hotel. We chose a British sports bar for dinner. This helped to cement Ben’s theory that Amsterdam is really just an extension of the UK. He says that Amsterdam was the most like Great Britain of any city he’s been to (outside of GB, of course).

The omnipresence of English and Dutch’s tonal familiarity helped to add to this Anglophonic atmosphere, but for me, the most important factor was le style de vie of the Dutch. They seemed so laid back, so breezy, so…happy. After living in Paris for four months, it was a shock to see Europeans who looked and acted carefree. They smiled and laughed as they passed, leisurely riding their bicycles. They weren’t overly concerned with their outfits, and they weren’t threatened by the English language the way the French are. They were visibly happy, something so rare chez les Français. It was a welcome break from my French surroundings.

Our third day in Amsterdam was filled with more museums. Having purchased a money-saving “museumkaart,” we had free access to all the state-run museums; tapping our frugal Dutch heritage, we profited. Although Amsterdam’s equivalent to the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum (“state museum”) was limited due to renovations, it offered a very manageable selection of the Dutch masters, including a sizeable Rembrandt collection and a number of Vermeers.

We tried to stop in at the Filmmuseum, but after a confusing exchange with the friendly cashier, eventually learned that they didn’t have an exposition showing.

The foam (fotografiemuseum Amsterdam) proved interesting, however, and we finished our night there before heading to the Pancake Bakery. Suggested by our guidebook, the intimate eatery offered over 50 varieties of traditional Dutch pancakes. Ben’s cinnamon-apple and my cheese pancakes were excellent, and the friendly service reminded me how different from Paris Amsterdam really was.

On our final day in the city, we finally embarked into the panic-attack inducing, tourist-filled areas of Amsterdam. Until this point, we’d mostly mingled amongst natives on the outskirts of town, but we decided we should see the city center before we departed. We dropped our bags off at Central Station and walked down Damrak. We found them alright; tourists swarmed the street like screaming teenagers at an ’N Sync concert circa 1999. Souvenir shops, fast food and tacky museums abounded. I found it hard to see the allure of this people-filled destination. I much preferred the quiet canals and local parks we had spent our first three days exploring. But the crowd-think mentality apparently rules among tourists. The good thing is this collective thinking makes them easy enough to avoid: simply hop on a side street or take the next road over and life will be nearly tourist-free.

After fighting off the crowds, we saw an intriguing contemporary art exhibit in the “New Church” – another Pont Neuf situation considering the church dates from the 15th century. Since Amsterdam’s contemporary art museum was closed for renovations – shocker – select pieces were on display within the church. The theme of spirituality united the exhibit, making the randomness of contemporary art more palatable. As always with the Dutch, the text accompanying the art was extensive and informative, this time presented in a take-home booklet.

We spent the afternoon in the amusing Amsterdam Historical Museum and passed by the “Old Church,” a 13th-century wonder located squarely in the Red Light District, just before closing.

We caught our bus to Prague later that night without a hitch.

We’d seen so much in Amsterdam that it felt like time to move on, but I was still sad to leave that laid-back Amsterdam style and those glorious canals behind.

01 January 2009

La Douceur du foyer

Sometimes it seems that vacationing can be equally, if not more, stressful than la vie quotidienne.

That is certainly how I felt the day before my departure, when I made my last post, and the sentiment persisted a number of times throughout my near two weeks of travel across Northern and Central Europe and back to Paris.

But, in all, I would have to say that I greatly enjoyed the trip. We made sure to keep things low-key, resisting my typical tourist-on-overdrive style in favor of a more laidback and leisurely attitude. Amsterdam, Prague and Vienna were all great. Although my obsessive compulsiveness regrets that I did not see everything that there is to see in these lovely cities, I am happy with what we were able to do and see. I got a great feel for each of the three cities and their dynamics which were all so different – from each other and, especially, from Paris.

I will be updating more about the trip and each city, hopefully with pictures – that is if I have room to save all 400-plus of them on my nearly-full hard drive – within the next few weeks as things settle back down for me.

During my vacation, I thankfully managed to free my mind – for the most part – of all the stress and work that plagued me before the break. Unfortunately, I have returned to face it all again in Paris. The decision to forget my troubles during the break was reasonable and psychologically helpful, but it is now becoming a bit regrettable; now back and settled into my home-away-from-home that is Paris, I am overwhelmed with the responsibilities and tasks before me.

My to-do list is chocked full of the things that I need to catch up on. From the practical (grocery shopping) to the silly (reading my favorite Slate columns) to the serious (preparing for a 3-hour, open-note final exam which will take place a week from today), each bullet point adds to my stress. Thankfully, having just finished writing it all down, the tasks are beginning to seem more manageable.

And being back in my cozy room in this intimate 6th-arrondissement apartment gives me the comfort and confidence to get to work.

At least for now, this feels like home.